Organized by the historian Amy Chazkel, who also provides the foreword, this forum gathers the work of three historians of Latin America who have written extensively on the social history of crime, prompting them to reflect on a ubiquitous but little studied public history institution: the police museum. Alejandra Bronfman, Lila Caimari, and Robert Buffington, specialists in Cuba, Argentina, and Mexico, respectively, guide us through a selection of five police museums: one in Havana that played a crucial role in legal medicine and developing ideas about race during Cuba's Republican period but no longer exists; one in Buenos Aires that was founded as part of the early twentieth-century wave of police reform and modernization; and two in Mexico City and one in Guadalajara that mushroomed in the context of the Mexican police's public image hemorrhage of recent decades. This forum is a critical examination of not only objects on display but also the deeper logic of the categorizing schemes used in each museum. The official history of crime presented to the public, epitomized by police museums, provides a fascinating counterpoint to the contemporary academic history of crime in Latin America, which is remarkably diverse but converges on its use of historical analysis to challenge normative understandings of the law and the illicit. Far from “calling the law into question,” unsurprisingly, police museums naturalize and dehistoricize the criminal law. Yet this forum points toward ways in which further research on police museums can shed new light on how the public encounters the most problematic and controversial manifestations of state power.

You do not currently have access to this content.